Why opt out of Community ID?

One of the main roles where I think iNaturalist can be very useful is documenting what organisms were called by what name in other data sets. For instance, suppose we have an ecological monitoring field crew out collecting data on public land, and they record something as “Atriplex hymenelytra”. iNaturalist is the most efficient and user-friendly way for them to provide lasting documentation of what plants they were calling by that name, by a very wide margin. But iNaturalist’s handling of taxonomy and identifications undermines that specific functionality in annoying ways. There’s no reliable way for the crew to indicate “this is the plant we were calling Atriplex hymenelytra”.

iNat is not a taxonomic resource (as said by staff), that’s why you can’t do it the way GBIF shows old names and synonyms.

A bit redundant, but can’t they just put the current scientific name in the notes if they are worried about phylogeny changes? As a courtesy, if I see something in the ID that’s not recognized as an iNat taxon and my identification would obliterate it, I add a comment note like:

  • Observer identified it as “white lined sphinx”

Or something like that.

For the same reason “just write the name in the notes” is not how iNaturalist handles identifications in the first place. :-)

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Yes, some of iNaturalist’s limitations are deliberate. The question, though, was “why opt out of community ID?” and one of the answers is “it’s one of the few tools we have to work around some of iNaturalist’s deliberate limitations”.


Maybe I’m missing the nuance, but wouldn’t the observer’s initial identification always remain there? That is, if they mark observation as Atriplex hymenelytra it would remain as such as the first record in the observation, even if subsequent identifiers think it’s something else, a la Gerald (warning: hundreds of identifications, may crash browser or app). Noting the original scientific name is just to take care of the issue of an organism getting renamed/regrouped elsewhere, such as when the Genus changes.


Feel free to tag me anytime this happens - I may not be able to ID to species but I can always at least add an ID to help get it into the right group.


Sounds like a prime candidate to form a “hybrid swarm” – when the organism’s actual mating habits don’t match the taxonomists’ construct.

Hear, hear. To elaborate on my above comment: I have in mind one observation in particular for which I am seriously thinking about opting-out preemptively. It is a species I feel especially happy about getting, because I hadn’t expected to. But it is also a species with two indistinguishable subspecies, which just so happen to overlap right in the area where my observation was made. We all know that it’s only a matter of time until these subspecies are elevated to full species; then I will lose Research Grade on that observation as it gets permanently bumped back to genus.

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There are a few complications here. In the simplest case, the original ID was an allowed ID on iNaturalist at the time of the observation, and still is. You can find the observations with that ID from that user via https://www.inaturalist.org/identifications, but this is kind of a limited and unintuitive way to interact with the data. For instance, if the user has a bunch of observations originally IDed as “Atriplex hymenelytra”, I’m not sure how you find the one associated with a particular monitoring plot.

Now suppose the original ID was an allowed ID on iNaturalist at the time of the observation, but no longer is. To use the identification query, you need to know the taxon ID number, but you can’t search by the taxon name to get it. You have to go to the page for whatever current taxon the original ID has been moved to and poke around in the taxon swap history. Put that together with the limitations of the identification query, and we’re dealing with functionality that exists but is getting convoluted and would be difficult to figure out for someone new to iNaturalist.

Now suppose the original ID was not an allowed ID on iNaturalist at the time of the observation. Here’s an example: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/131496807. The “original ID” in the iNaturalist identification system is actively misleading. If you had developed a good workflow for using the identification query, it would give you the wrong answer and without manually checking the observation you wouldn’t have any way of knowing that it’s giving you the wrong answer. I’m not sure if there’s a way to search the “notes” or “comments” fields to find records containing a particular name. I suspect there is, but I don’t know how. In any case, once you’re at a point where you’d need to be able to identify the error in the output from the identifications query and then query multiple additional fields, the path of least resistance is probably to query by location and then just manually check all the observations made there.

If we summarize across the possible scenarios… yes… the information is there… but you’re going to have trouble finding it reliably.

For comparison, an herbarium specimen database I was using a decade ago, developed in Microsoft Access and in many ways not an example of how to design a good biodiversity database, had an “original ID” field. You just hit control-F and searched that field. Done. :-)

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In that case you can just mark it as good as it can be and it will go to RG on genus level… I don’t really get the reason to pick out one of the species in your scenario at random if both occur in the same region and are indistinguishable All you have then ist wishfull thinking at RG level🤷


I read the whole thread and I did not find a good reason for opting out actually. All scenarios mentioned here can be solved in different ways more efficiantly I think.

For me as a identifier, what it says when you opt out ist that you don´t really care about the opinions of others, but feel you are right about your ID… or maybe that you are new and clicked some weird button without knowing what it means. In the mayority of cases I found people who are pretty active on the plattform chose this option. Unfortunately, they always never reply or adjust their ID, even if I provide them with sound reasoning (really, sometimes it´s so clear that anyone who really knows anything about this kind of organism would quickly see their mistake). They don´t care. Sometimes several other IDers ran into this trap before me… but the ID did not change.
So, why should I care IDing anything from them? I also don´t feel like providing an agreeing ID, because why should I? It´s just very unfortunate that I cannot apply a filter for the “out-opters”, but in many cases I only realize that they do not care when I wonder why a ID does not change after I put in mine.

And yes, I am annoyed by those, because sometimes they put species in species lists of an region, even if they do not actually occur there. I don´t think any single person should be able to do this or at least there should be room for correction.


Like which scenarios? What if you don’t want to reupload id? https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/117964512 Here is the only species of that genus found in the region, someone disagrees, someone else agrees, I don’t want to lose the second id and messages or annoy those iders with tags, it’s easier to opt out so it doesn’t get lost in other Colias, and wait until an expert will review local observations, it doesn’t make iders’ life harder and shouldn’t annoy them.

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I don´t see how you tried to interact with the person disagreeing… he/she is active and might be willing to tell you, why he/she disagreed or maybe retract the ID if you give him/her a good reason. I think trying to get into a discourse is the better way.

There are also several IDers for this species in this region of the world you also don´t seem to have interacted with. This would in my opinion be the next best step. Have other experts on this taxon weigh in and see what they say.

You don´t want to annoy those experts that might be happy to help actually, but opting out does annoy others…

@Ajott just answer how this case can annoy anybody? Person ided got many notifications and could withdraw, that’s their choice not to do, but as website user I have all the right to use the option for the case it’s intended for, and shouldn’t think even for a second somehow someone can be annoyed by, hm, by what, having a species id there? Our experts have lots of observations to check, they will come to it when they will do that and nobody is offended by that.

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Sure, I am not saying my way is the only one and sure you can use this option if you like. Just as people can use the tagging function as they like, even if others get annoyed by it (like other topics on this forum show), as this is also how the option is intented. I have a different opinion on that one actually, then seemingly many others.

I still feel in most (maybe not all) cases it shows a kind of hybris, to exclude others opinions to validade your own instead of letting the process take it´s place. But that is just my opinion as you have yours. And this might also depend on how and why you use the plattform.

Just would like to clarify few things:

  • it is very optimistic to think that an IDer will look at all notifications they get… a lot of IDers just check back, if they feel they need to, e.g. when they get mentioned or a PM
  • I never said you need to interact with observations, so I don´t know what to reply about that

But hey, in the end it is your choice… as it is mine to find opting out annoying (as I explained in an earlier post) and not IDing those if I realize it as I feel in most cases my time is wasted on them.


Sorry, I read it wrong, deleted that part.


It could be argued that hard core splitters are the ones engaging in wishful thinking, i.e., wishing that there were more species. In my scenario, opting out would keep it at the currently-recognized species level, instead of acknowledging a possibly-spurious new species.

Think of the Pacific-slope Flycatcher and Cordilleran Flycatcher. A good case has been made that the “hybrid swarm” between these two indicates that they never should have been split in the first place. Now think of it in iNaturalist terms: an observation of Western Flycatcher, bumped back to Genus Empidonax because of the split. As if it is now indistinguishable from Alder Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, and Acadian Flycatcher.


If you’d like to adopt a negative interpretation, that’s up to you. :-)

For me, it’s closer to: “I want to be able to reliably and easily find my identifications.” Suppose I learn that I might have been getting two plants backwards for the past year–how do I find the set of observations that I had identified by those two names? Sure, I can do it through https://www.inaturalist.org/identifications, but as discussed above it’s kind of awful. When I’ve got a choice between “good UI” and “bad UI”, I’m not choosing “bad UI”.

I am not sure I understand your reasoning? So you might have IDed a species wrongly and someone might have corrected you and then you are not able to find your wrong IDs? So your reasoning is, because you might be wrong, you would like to opt out? Thats weird… but maybe I understood it wrong?

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I’m not really sure what’s confusing, but the gist is that I frequently find it useful to look up “the plants I called […]”. Correcting my past mistakes is one scenario among many. If this kind of search isn’t useful to you, that’s fine. It is useful to me.